New York is preparing in the coming weeks to roll out an effort to provide COVID-19 booster shots amid a spike in hospitalizations from the virus this summer, Gov. Kathy Hochul said Wednesday.
Rolling out booster shots comes at a pivotal time for the pandemic, as schools are reopening for students and teachers following 18 months of hybrid learning, but also as businesses delay return plans for offices and job sites.
The state is launching a digital ad campaign to encourage vaccinations for school children ages 12 to 17 who currently qualify for the vaccine. But overall, Hochul in a news conference in New York City indicated the state's strategy was largely a back-to-basics for New Yorkers: masking indoors for the vaccinated and unvaccinated alike in areas with high or moderate COVID-19 cases and required masking in schools, while encouraging more people to get their shots.
"The bottom line is it's all about getting vaccinated and wearing the mask," Hochul said. "There's nothing new with how we're dealing with this next phase."
The Pfizer-manufactured shot will be available as a booster shot by Sept. 20, while Moderna's vaccine will be available soon after, Hochul said. Vaccinated people will qualify for a booster shot eight months after completing the initial vaccine series.
Booster shots are still pending federal approval for those who do not have pre-existing conditions. But the additional shot will likely be granted after the spread of the highly contagious delta variant this summer throughout the United States.
"We're looking very good," Hochul said of the booster shot plan. "They don't think we're going to have any capacity issues or volume."
Hochul has said she wants to take a localized approach to the vaccine drive as well as the push to provide booster shots. The state is providing $65 million to local health departments to boost vaccinations and booster shots.
So far, 73% of New York adults have completed the vaccine series; 50% of children between the ages of 12 and 17 have also completed the two doses.
Still, despite concerns over the delta variant, so-called breakthrough cases of COVID-19 contracted by fully vaccinated people accounts for 0.5% of that population. Meanwhile, hospitalizations of fully vaccinated people accounts for 0.04% of those cases.
A new variant of the virus, known as mu, has so far been found in .5% of cases in New York overall.
Overall, New York now has 2,415 people hospitalized due to COVID-19, and 36% of hospital beds in the state are available; 26% of intensive care units are also vacant for now, Hochul said. The governor spoke with hospital leaders in New York, who said they have the capacity to handle the current increase.
"That is manageable today. They know what to do; they've done this before," Hochul said. "We stand ready to do what we need to do to trigger more hospital capacity."